2010 was a year of much traveling. Partially due to the shine wearing off of Santa Fe. Mostly due to being settled back into the Northern Hemisphere – Where there were people and places Lane and myself were anxious to see.
First up was a little late March road trip through our new found neck of the woods. We set out for Monument Valley, by way of New Mexico, Arizona, and a small patch of Utah.
The drive up was surprisingly scenic. What it lacked in dramatic landscape, it made up for with dozens of different shades of sand and dirt. I’d been living in the high desert for nearly a year at that time. I’d seen some sand and dirt… Still, it left an impression.
The park it’s self is a strange and beautiful place. The monuments are awe inspiring. There is something utterly indescribable about how they tower over the vast valley…
For the most part, the buttes are inaccessible. There’s a road that weaves it’s way through the various areas of the park… keeping a good distance away from the major monuments. It is possible to go on a guided tour (via jeep or horseback) that will take you off the main road and closer to them. The few people we chatted with had all taken a tour and loved it. We opted to skip it in favor of a short self–guided hike along the only trail.
It was fantastic. The orange sand, hot desert sun, and looming buttes make for a surreal experience. The environment feels completely alien. Like you’re the first person to ever walk across it. Even if you had just said “Hello” to hikers passing in the opposite direction. The last time I experienced anything like it was standing on top of Half Dome in Yosemite.
Next up were the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. These massive dunes (the largest rise up some 750 feet from the valley below) sit at the western base of the Sangre de Cristo Range.
This is my kind of park. No trails. No signs. No windy little roads with small fenced parking lots to pull off and take a photo. Just 19,000 acres of sand and a sign saying “Have at it”. You just point yourself towards a dune and go.
Climbing sand mountains is hard work.
It’s steep. With every step forward, you slide half a step back. Just when you start feeling good – Start thinking you’ve got a rhythm going, a 60mph wind comes along to sandblast your face, embed tiny rocks in your teeth, and destroy the home button on your iPhone that was only out of your pocket for minute to take a single super quick photo.
We took it in sections.
“We’ll just go up to that small peak there.”
“If we wind across these ridges it won’t be so steep and we’ll have a better view.”
“If I was ever stranded in the real desert, I would just lay down and die.”
“We made it this far, might as well keep going up to the top of tallest one!”
It’s hard to tell from this photo, but that’s on the very top of the High Dune (Yes, that’s it’s real name). There’s some 700 feet of shifting, growing, sand below us.
The static electricity up there was insane. I couldn’t touch Lane without getting a massive shock. It happened every single time. It took about three tries of putting my right hand on her shoulder to finally learn that lesson. The wind was so loud we had to yell to hear each other. Even that close together.
It was awesome.
The next best thing to standing at the top and looking over the valley through sand stung eyes, was coming back down. At this point, we had been there for a couple of hours. We decided to try a shorter way than we came up… Sliding down the steepest face. I’d guess it varied between 65 and 75 degrees. You lean way back, weight on your heels, do sort of a forward moonwalk, and hope for the best. Things were a little iffy at first, but eventually we settled in and made it to the bottom safe and sound.
I’m still finding sand in things. Almost a year later.
After a days drive across the Rockies, then north through Colorado, we ended up in Boulder. The final stage of our trip was considerably less adventurous. We saw some friends, wandered around the city, and mostly ate delicious vegetarian food. Between Boulder and Denver, there is far more good veggie food than we could eat in a two night stay. It was much better than the typically uninspired offerings served around Santa Fe.
It was so nice to walk into City O’ City in Denver and have it just be an awesome restaurant/bar with great vegetarian food and whiskey. There were no value judgements. This food wasn’t a part of the one true way. No great goddess of the black bean gas (actually, that would make a pretty nice mural). Just an excellent North Carolina style dry rub BBQ tofu sandwich with coleslaw. In the sandwich. Right on top of the tofu. Mmmmm! …Not to mention the vegan pizza with pineapple, green peppers, and onion rings.
It was also nice to walk around Boulder and have cars yield for pedestrians (that was us). At stop signs. At cross walks. At red lights. And when there wasn’t even a legal reason too. They were stopping just to be polite! It made me realize just how much stress comes with something as seemingly simple as walking around little ole Santa Fe.
Even with the wonderful adventures, the thing I’ll remember most about the trip is driving back home, through Northern New Mexico, discussing inspirations and deciding once and for all that Santa Fe wasn’t a good fit for us. It was a bit sad. But more than that, it was a huge relief. Once we made the decision, it seemed like the exact right thing. …Not that it snuck up on us or anything. We’d been having serious doubts for awhile. It just took a little wandering away from our usual habits and routines to finally commit to it.